Hey everyone! It’s almost fall, and it is really starting to feel like it in Northern Virginia. As I am typing this blog, I am sitting in the pavilion at Williams Gap on the first cool evening we have had this season. We are gearing up for a release of three new wines and I have the pleasure of tasting through them tonight. I could not be more excited to uncork the Mountain Valley Red, the Round Hill Red, and I have to tell you, I am most ecstatic about the Fieldstone. So obviously for this blog, we are chatting about red blends.
When I think of blends, most of the wines from antiquity until now and around the world that we drink are blends from Chianti, Bordeaux, Champagne. And wine of the old world usually has a lot of rules to follow, as well. For example, check out the laws for Chianti. Since 1996, the blend for Chianti and Chianti Classico has been 75 - 100% Sangiovese, up to 10% Canaiolo and up to 20% of any other approved red grape variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. Chianti Classico must have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12% with a minimum of 7 months aging in oak, while Chianti Classicos labeled riserva must be aged at least 24 months at the winery, with a minimum alcohol level of at least 12.5%. The harvest yields for Chianti Classico are restricted to no more than 7.5 t/ha (3 tonnes per acre). For basic Chianti, the minimum alcohol level is 11.5% with yields restricted to 9 t/ha (4 tonnes per acre). There are plenty of other laws regarding release date, where the fruit for the wine can be grown and more.
Here in the United States, we really only have a few laws regarding how we make our wine and not one of those laws has to do with what our blends can/must contain, aging requirements, yield restrictions, alcohol content or release dates. So just to give you a brief history on how the American Red Blend came into existence, I did some research and a winemaker by the name of David Phinney continually came up. While I have had his wines, I have not done any research on the guy until now. About 10-15 years ago, this idea of the “red blend” in America really took off. And now, the red blend is looked at by a very large portion of American consumers to be the same thing as asking for a Merlot or asking for Cabernet - it’s a unique category. We are talking about a new category of wine - a category of wine that is treated the same as if a consumer were to say they like to drink Zinfandel. And actually, that’s what’s really interesting - the introduction of the American Red Blend started the death of Zinfandel in America.
The American Red Blend essentially started as a replacement to Zinfandel and was Zinfandel-heavy because Zinfandel was losing popularity on the market. Not to mention that ripping up vines and replacing them is quite expensive. So a lot of intuitive winemakers took quality Zinfandel fruit and blended it because American wine preferences had changed. The main winemaker on the scene was a guy named Dave Phinney from Napa Valley. He purchased the Zinfandel fruit no one wanted and made a Zinfandel heavy blend called The Prisoner. I am sure you have had it, or at least heard of it - it became a bit of a cult wine and the following kept increasing. And now Dave had a very successful product, so he sold it to another winery. And in selling that wine, he was not allowed to make a blend of wine, red blend of wine based on Zinfandel for eight years. After that eight years concluded, he released a red blend called Eight Years in the Desert and sold it through his personal label, Orin Swift. Orin Swift makes a lot of red blends and for a lot of consumers, the American Red Blend hits everything they’re looking for. It has that power, it has the plushness. This American wine category became popular without the help of the wine industry - it was the consumers. Interestingly enough this wine category really has no definition - red blends can be a light everyday, easy-drinking style or it can be a big, bold, age worthy wine. Which is the perfect transition into our new blends at Williams Gap.
We have three new blends - the Mountain Valley Red, the Round Hill Red and Fieldstone. The first two are aged much like our 2019 reds (10 months in French oak), while the Fieldstone is the highest-end wine we have produced. We aged this wine a total of 10 months in 100% French oak (40% new, 60% neutral). Then the individual varieties were blended together to age as a blend in all neutral French oak for additional 10 months (20 months total aging).
I am sipping on the Mountain Valley now which is even lighter than our 2019 Cabernet Franc. This wine is subtle and showcases aromas of star anise, which translates to red currant on the palate. It simply reminds me of fall in a glass. The varietal make up is 33% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 17% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Tannat.
Next up, is our medium bodied Round Hill Red which is a similar blend but a totally different wine. We blended 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Tannat. This wine showcases aromas of smoky sage, which translates to black raspberry on the palate. Super silky and begs to be sipped on by a bonfire or in front of the fireplace.
And finally, the pièce de résistance - our 2019 Fieldstone. Our 2019 Fieldstone is a blend of 60% Petit Verdot, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Tannat. This is the most luxurious, full bodied and longest aged wine we have made thus far. This wine showcases aromas of a freshly toasted barrel, which translates to dried fig and baking spices on the palate. The word that comes to mind is "elegance" and it makes me really desire to appreciate this wine by dissecting every flavor and aromatic compound. This wine is so complex and I honestly cannot wait to take another sip. For those of you reading this blog, you may be thinking, “how can I taste this wine?”. Well, we aren’t making it easy for you - and it’s not out of malice, I promise. The case production of this wine was limited and we want to watch age over the next decade. As such, it is currently club-exclusive and only available by the bottle. Not yet a club member? Head over to the Wine Club tab of our website and check out the benefits. Next time you are in, ask for a beautiful bottle of Fieldstone and it is all yours!
Thanks for reading along with me and I hope you are able to enjoy all three of our new blends as soon as possible - you won’t regret it! Cheers!
Tasting Room Manager